7 December 2000

University of Queensland botanists believe pioneering physiological profiling will help ensure the survival of rare plants from the lowland tropical forests of the Daintree by identifying why they are unique.

The researchers say the clearing of remaining lowland rainforests for urban development coupled with environmental change make discovering reasons for scarcity of rare plant species particularly urgent.

Queensland boasts the largest number of higher plant species (more than 7000) of all Australian states, with many of these in the Queensland Wet Tropics.

"In the Daintree housing development is still occurring in what is globally one of the most species-rich forests," said Dr Susanne Schmidt of the University's Department of Botany.

"Apart from the USA, with tropical rainforest in Hawaii, Australia is the only other developed country that has such a precious biological asset. And yet it is continually being depleted."

The physiological profiling is being conducted by Dr Schmidt, Professor Christa Critchley and honours graduate Anna Richards from UQ, in collaboration with Dr Julia Playford of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Dr Alison Shapcott of the University of the Sunshine Coast.

It involves measuring physical environment, including light and soil characteristics, and intrinsic plant function such as resource use and stress tolerance.

A pilot study comparing the genetic, environmental and physiological profiles of three rare Australian tropical rainforest species with a close common "relative" has found different reasons for scarcity among each species.

The researchers say understanding the physiology of rare plant species will provide information about their survival needs "greater than a genetic or ecological assessment only."

"We hope that in a time where biodiversity is being depleted at an alarming rate, such research may help us recognise, prioritise and conserve those species most at risk," Professor Critchley said.

For more information contact, Dr Susanne Schmidt on (07) 3365-1050 or Brad Turner at UQ Communications on (07) 3365-2659.